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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Isn't this a touch embarrassing? Right after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was overthrown by a military coup, the United States bucked the tide of other countries in the region and endorsed the coup, blaming it on Chavez. (Regional leaders, rightly, didn't much like Chavez; but they apparently found the means of his ouster even more troubling.) Now the coup has been overturned and Chavez is back in power. What do we do now?

Let's call this hung-out-dry watch.

This piece in Time describes the evolution of the administration policy toward Israel over the last few weeks. And particularly how the president himself at a few points seemed painfully out of the loop even on what his own administration was doing. Here's a key graf ...

But that afternoon, when he finally made a statement, Bush seemed unaware of what his Administration had been up to. And he was working without a net: none of his top aides had followed him to Texas. "Everyone was on vacation," says a chagrined White House official, "and they pretty much stayed on vacation." Staffing the President was a junior press aide normally assigned to Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, and it showed. "I can understand why the Israeli government takes the actions they take," Bush said. "Their country is under attack." Given the U.N. vote that very morning, the message was incoherent. And the imagery and atmospherics were all wrong: wearing an open-collar shirt and rocking back and forth in his chair, Bush looked like his pre-Sept. 11 self, a little bit scared and a little bit scary. A top official said later, "It was a mistake."

Who's the now-humiliated press guy? It must be Gordon Johndroe, Tom Ridge's spokesman. It's obvious from the description in the piece. But this Reuters story, for instance, identifies him as the guy staffing the president during the time in question.

This is called blaming it on the help.

It's sort of funny watching conservatives whipping themselves up over the quick demise of the Bush Doctrine (b. Oct. 2001 - d. March 2002). But it was our doctrine, you hear them saying. (Try to see Kate O'Beirne on the replay of Capital Gang.) Just as, I suppose, some right-wingers fixed upon the war on terrorism as their own fast track to becoming latter-day Orwells (those essays on totalitarianism really are good!), many more saw it as normal or just, well, fair that if we're going to have a war we get a doctrine too! We've got a tax cut; we've got a war; we've got a doctrine; and now even a bracing, realist literature!

It really was all a bit precious. Too bad there was little sense that the doctrine had to make sense or be enforceable or simply have someone in the White House who had thought through its implications.

Now the White House is being reduced to the most mortifying, dignity-busting expedients like distancing itself from the president's own Secretary of State -- surely a great moment for the responsibility era. Is Colin Powell really just freelancing? If the president doesn't like what he's doing he really does have the authority to request he return to the United States.

To say that the administration's current policy is incoherent really is something of an understatement. Either the president -- or someone on his behalf -- needs to retreive his manhood from that pickle jar in which it's currently residing or stop issuing doctrines he's incapable of following.

Another edition of fiscal irresponsibility watch.

If you remember back to last year, the much-heralded and derided Bush tax cut was squeezed into various long-term budget projections by giving it a ten-year time horizon. If they were permanent their full deleterious effects on the nation's long-term finances, along with their strangling off of the revenue for any sort of Social Security reform, would have been even more abundantly clear.

Not that it wasn't clear, mind you. But the ten year time horizon gimmick facilitated the efforts of those inclined toward deception and lies.

Now the president says he wants the cuts all to be permanent.

How much bait-and-switch should he get away with?

And will the Dems be shrewd enough to see this as an opportunity?

Oh, the indignity!

You'll remember last week we discussed Dai Xiaoming, his company's former board-member Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly, and his political angel Chen Yuan on the mainland, the Communist Party princeling who now runs the China Development Bank. Right, now it's all coming back to you. Well, you'll also remember that the institution that made the $100 million sweatheart loan to Dai was the People's Bank of China.

Well, now even the People's Bank of China (the Hong Kong unit actually) has dropped Arthur Andersen as their accountant.

Like I said, oh the indignity!

Here is a very sobering statistic.

Amidst the carnage and devastation underway in Israel and the Occupied Territories there is a minor legal flap over whether the IDF (the Israel Defense Forces) can remove and bury bodies of Palestinians killed in the fighting in the Jenin refugee camp.

Palestinians have accused the IDF of burying bodies in a mass grave and yesterday the High Court ordered the IDF not to remove the bodies pending a legal hearing, which presumably will get to the bottom of the accusations.

These sorts of accusations and conflicting accounts are to be expected in such a situation. Each side will at least lean toward estimates of dead and wounded which are most favorable to them. And this question isn't what I mean to draw your attention to, only to draw some context.

What did catch my eye is this: According to this article in the respected Israeli daily Ha'aretz, "[IDF] Soldiers had been removing bodies [from Jenin] since Thursday and plans were to continue to do so ... [and] the army estimates that there are still 100 to 200 bodies in the camp."

As a matter of principle, deaths suffered as a result of legitimate acts of self-defense or retaliation are not the same as those lost in the original act of aggression. Thus, to me at least, you can't compare civilian casualties in Afghanistan to those in the World Trade Center. In a related manner, an army has very little choice if enemy soldiers or paramilitaries simply refuse to surrender and insist on fighting to the death.

Still, those numbers are very high and they come from only one -- albeit very large -- camp. And I hadn't heard such numbers before.

I'm not sure any political piece I've ever written has whipped up quite the degree of feeling and emotion as the piece I wrote on Al Gore a couple days ago -- at least in small world of Clintonites and Gorians. Don't get me wrong: I don't think this was because the piece itself was particularly well done, but rather because of the raw and barely healed-over wounds still lingering over that campaign which the article discussed.

As the piece described, there is really no end of the bitterness among many of the ex-staffers toward those who had what you'd call executive positions in the campaign. Particularly the marquee consultants. Whether their complaints are legitimate or not is another matter -- about which I guess I'm ambivalent. But they are quite real.

That, however, only scratches the surface of all the rankled emotions swirling about among the alums of that campaign.

I spent much of the day hearing from different folks in the Gore and Clinton orbit and obviously as you might imagine lots of the people mentioned in the piece were not at all happy with it.

But one of the things that surprised me most was that one person quite close to the former vice-president actually liked the piece quite a bit, I'm told. As a friend who talked to this person today told me by email, the person in question also "believes that Gore was surrounded by the wrong people. Your piece made some pretty memorable points in that regards, stuff that only insiders know about."

I'm not normally one to go looking for ways to defend the Bush White House. But here's a good reason to. Georgia's frequently intemperate and outrageous congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has apparently accused the Bush administration of having specific foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks and having done nothing so as to undertake a military buildup to benefit the Carlyle Group, an admittedly shadowy defense industry player with many contacts to the administration. What's even more outrageous is that McKinney doesn't even seem to claim to have any evidence. It would be one thing I guess if she actually had a Oliver Stone-esque story she was going on. But she doesn't.

As part of the TPM Book List I'm going to tell you about a legendary documentary that's just been re-released. It's called The Sorrow and the Pity. And it's simply one of the most exquisite and powerful pieces of film-making or chronicling of past events that I have ever seen. For almost thirty years it was almost impossible to find a copy of it. But now it's out on DVD.

I'm going to discuss it as part of a series of posts. But let me now get the ball rolling with a brief description.

First some cautions. This isn't a Mike Myers movie or a feel-good Ken Burns flick. S&P runs more than four hours long (Run Time: 260 minutes); it's in black and white; and it's in French (and German) with subtitles. It's a movie made for DVD since it's really best watched in a couple sittings. Still, it's wrenching, engrossing and, like all really profound art, watching it makes you more deeply human. (The Times called it "The fastest four and a half hours in the history of cinema.") It's three or four times better than any other documentary and almost every other film I've ever seen.

The Sorrow and the Pity is about the Nazi occupation of France, particularly in one city, Clermont-Ferrand, in the part of France governed by the collaborationist Vichy Regime. At the broadest level the movie explains that for all the myth-making about the Resistance, and real heroes who participated in it, most French citizens were deeply collaborationist. Perhaps it's better to say that they were cowardly, afraid, willing to let almost anything happen if they themselves could remain safe.

But that only scratches the surface of the story.

More soon about Marcel Ophuls, the director of the movie; the notorious reference to The Sorrow and the Pity in Annie Hall; the shame of Maurice Chevalier; and how the movie's message about how weak and fearful people are turns out to be remarkably, perversely powerful, inspiring, and redeeming.

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